The contents of Michelin's inaugural guide to New York City restaurants were announced last year at a highly anticipated party at the Guggenheim Museum in front of a crowd of international chefs and journalists. This year, the director of the Michelin Guides, Jean Luc Naret, presided over a simple breakfast at Bouchon in the Time Warner Center, attended by just a handful of members of the press. "We decided to do things little differently this year," Mr. Naret said at yesterday's event. "The croissants here are very good, and it's very cozy." The second New York City guide, which went to press August 31 and arrives in bookstores today, rates 526 restaurants and 50 hotels. About 20% of the list changed from last year, mostly due to 100 additions and 80 eliminations.
Mere inclusion in the Michelin Guide means considerable cachet, and many restaurants report that appearing in the book boosts business by as much as 25%. But it's the Michelin stars that always garner the most attention. There were few surprises this year. The most notable change was the elimination of three-star Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, but that was done because the restaurant will be closing in January. Chef Mario Batali's latest restaurant, Del Posto, arrived on the list with two stars, while Danube dropped from two stars to one. Other notable newcomers in the one-star ratings are A Voce and Country. Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, and Per Se retained their three-star status. In total there were 49 stars awarded to 39 restaurants.
This year's design traded recipes for restaurant menus, and added an "Inspector's Favorites" category ("Bib Gourmand" in the European guides), which highlights 44 restaurants where a meal can be had for under $40. "We ask the inspectors, Where would you go on your own time and spend your own money?" Mr. Naret said of the distinction. Considering that one of the five full-time New York inspectors was responsible for checking out 250 restaurants for potential first inclusion ultimately 37 made the cut one wonders when inspectors have time to eat out for pleasure.
After reading the list of stars yesterday morning, Mr. Naret made a point to address a criticism of the San Francisco Michelin Guide, which awarded just 34 stars to 25 restaurants when it was published last month. He explained that in both guides, the ratio of stars to restaurants in the region are in fact the same; the number of New York stars is only greater because there are almost 200 more restaurants listed.
Like every New York restaurant guidebook and rating system, Michelin has its share of very vocal critics. The format of last year's guide printed in full color, with descriptive text for each listing was at first criticized for not being as serious as the traditional red guide. But it was sufficiently well-received to be reproduced in Europe: Next year, Paris and London will get the same treatment. The New York guidebook has been a huge success for the French tire company, with sales of more than 100,000 copies; 85% of the books were bought by New Yorkers. Though last year's inaugural guide was not sold outside America not even in Europe or Asia, Michelin's biggest markets the new guide will be on sale in 97 counties.
What plans are in Michelin's future? Mr. Naret would not specify which city was next for the guide, but said, "We have inspectors already at work on the 2008 guides and in other cities." So even as the guides are stacked in bookstores today, the ratings could already be obsolete. As Mr. Naret is fond of saying, "The stars are not set in marble, they are like crystal which is very fragile."